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26. Translating the Bible

Christian theology in a Sudanese context. God's word written down and published.

Some of us may take for granted the Bible we have to use. It has taken a lot of work by many people to produce God’s word in the language we can best understand. To begin with, a lot of research is carried out. A language is identified as a suitable target by examining factors like: ‘will the language survive or die out’? and ‘do the speakers speak other languages, or only this one’? Contact is made with appropriate leaders in the language group, and a suitable base established to house the work. The next step in preparation is identifying language helpers, learning the language, studying of the sound systems used by the language speakers, analysing the way the language holds together and the grammar rules it follows. A suitable way of writing the sounds is developed. A group is formed with representatives from first language speakers, translators and linguistic advisors. Later on, a first draft - idea for the eventual text - is produced after looking carefully at both the source text (usually in Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek), and the target language. Translation involves carefully discussing cultural understandings, word meanings in and out of their context, ideas clearly understood in one language but not at all in another (for example: “white as snow”). The exact biblical understanding has to be maintained throughout.

The first draft is passed around to advisors as well as all group members, for checking and suggestion. It is tested by asking a different first language speaker to read it, one who is not involved in the process in any other way. It is also tested by translating it back into a national main language (for example: French or English), to see how well the meanings are kept true. Translation consultants are asked for their opinions before a second, revised, draft is produced. The second will include all of the accepted changes from the first one. Next, proofreading is done to detect and mark errors for correction. More first language speakers who have not seen it before, are shown the document. A few trial copies are produced at this point, for chosen Christians to use as their ‘Bible’. Their comments and feedback is valued, especially over readability. With all these suggestions gathered together, a third draft text is made.

Now the final moment is getting closer! Checks are made to ensure there is consistency in use of key terms and accuracy of revisions against the source document. The spellings, the writing system, punctuation, paragraphs, chapter and verse numberings etc., are all checked too. Then, when final approval is given by consultants and group leaders, typesetting, cover design, printing and shipping can be arranged. At last the ‘dedication day’ will happen! God’s word is then put into the hands and hearts of people in their own languages. God speaks to people and they can understand!

I was asked to preach at the dedication service of ‘Genesis’, in the Maban language. It was during June 2000. About thirty people gathered at Banat. The joy on the faces of those who could read ‘Genesis’ for the first time in their own mother tongue, was exciting to see. The challenge of so many people still needing the Bible in their own languages must be taken seriously by those God has gifted and called to be involved.

(The Mabaan Bible arrived in 2018 - below)

The ‘Preface’ or ‘Introduction’ to your English Bible should tell you what type of translation it is. There are basically six types: 1. A common language translation uses language that can be understood by almost all speakers of that language as their mother (or first) tongue. This may involve using a deliberately limited number of words to keep it as simple as possible. 2. A literary language translation has a higher language level and requires more academic understanding from the reader. 3. A dynamic equivalence translation aims to reproduce the meaning of the original text, even if this involves changing words and grammar. 4. A formal correspondence translation follows the words and grammar of the original as closely as possible, while trying to convey the meaning. 5. Paraphrases do not translate as such, but they freely convey the meaning of the original languages, in modern English. 6. Revisions are new editions of previously translated works, which use more up to date understandings of all the languages involved.

Bibles with study notes usually try to present a particular theological position. It should always be remembered that those ‘added notes’ are not part of the ‘God-breathed’ (Greek - theopneustos) inspired text.

In this book I have always quoted from the New International Version. I have used it since the beginning of its publication in 1973, two years after I entered the preaching ministry in England. The NIV aims to translate into modern English. (I must remember that ‘modern English’ is now over 30 years old!) It has an emphasis on the form of words and their structure in the original texts. It is a formal correspondence translation. I have used just the one translation for almost all of my ministry. This has helped me to memorise passages of the Bible, which I feel is very important. Of course, I do consult different translations to bring out the meaning more clearly in my sermon or teaching preparation. But ninety-nine per cent of the time I read just the one Bible version. I begin with a prayer and I ask God to speak to me through it; and He does!

Thinking it through.

(a). Look in the front of your Bible: does it tell you what type of translation it is? (Read the

Preface or Introduction). Compare this to the six types listed in chapter twenty-six.

(b). As well as being true to the old texts and original Bible languages, why is it important that translators keep up to date with modern language usage?

(c). How do we know that God Himself wants to speak to us through the Bible?


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